Actually, I try hard NOT to have a favorite kid…

So, there’s this: a daddy blogger (is that what I am too??) who openly said that he prefers one of his sons more than the other, the elder more than the younger.  He has tried to rephrase this sentiment in recent days, saying that he likes them differently, but in the end, returns to the fact that one of his sons is his favorite.  Of course, the reaction to this piece has been harshly critical with people rightly pointing out that one day his younger son is going to read this piece one day, and he is going to be pisssssed.

But I found one person’s response especially striking.  That commentator wrote this:

“I commend you for being so honest and I can relate. It’s a shame that people can’t just read the blog as written without trying to act so superior and having the ‘Oh, I could NEVER’ attitude. Kudos to you for being honest and HUMAN.”

An interesting point of view.   I’m guessing that it stems from the belief that telling others how you feel is always a good thing to do because it promotes openness, authenticity, and transparency, which are rare nowadays.  And sure, I can see that being the case, especially in situations where a critical issue or great injustice has been buried for too long.  I’m guessing that to some extent Buzz Bishop felt this way when he wrote the article, that hey, he was just being honest and keeping it real!  He’s just saying what everyone feels, but is afraid to voice themselves.  And that kind of candor is refreshing, and maybe even brave.  I bet he thought he was being refreshingly brave.

But I have a huge problem with this for two reasons:

First, this view seems to value candor and honesty as a virtue in its own right.  But “telling people exactly how you feel” is hardly a virtue when what you feel is hurtful, unfair, prejudiced, or just plain mean (as in this situation).  If you are brutally honest with yourself, you might have a favorite child or be prejudiced against blacks, and biased against Muslims – that’s just how you naturally feel!  But the “naturalness” of these attitudes does not somehow justify them, as if all the things that humans naturally feel have a rightful place in civilized life.  There are many things that we believe naturally, that we really shouldn’t.  A father should hardly be patted on the back or seen as a trailblazer because he was “brave” enough to say that he plays favorites with his children and doesn’t really see a problem with it.  Such a father should probably put more effort into treating his children fairly instead of publicizing that he doesn’t.

But to be honest, I have a deeper issue with this situation, and that is that children are not the same as adults.  Recently, I wrote a post about my daughter, and how I refused to tell her about the supposed hostility between Blacks and Koreans because I didn’t want her to inherit stereotypes and prejudices that were blatant over-generalizations.

In response, someone wrote that they disagreed with me, that it was important to be honest and upfront with children about the reality of what life is really like.  I responded (politely) that I didn’t agree with her because children lack the ability to understand nuance.  I could share with her what I believed to be a clear and balanced summary of the simmering tensions between groups, but all of my careful balancing and word selection would be largely lost on her.  I might carefully say, “Some people might believe that blacks and Koreans have a more difficult time getting along than other conceivably groups would.”  But children, with their amazing ability to distill information into its purest form, would hear nothing but, “Blacks and Koreans don’t get along.”  And being the impressionable child that she is, that all children are, who knows how long she would carry that belief with her.

I think something similar is happening here.  If you read the responses, Buzzy tries to address the controversy in a number of ways, saying that one son will never be in the other’s shadow, that he just “likes them differently”, or spends more time with one than the other.  Such careful semantic gymnastics might work on adults (but no adults that I know personally), but they will be completely lost on his sons.  They will immediately discern the purest idea in the discussion, and that is this: Daddy likes Zacharie more than Charlie.  And no amount of careful word choice from that point in time is going to be able to minimize the consequence of this terrible sentiment on poor Charlie.

Daddy likes my brother more than me.

I understand being candid, and speaking on topics that have remained hidden or taboo.  I realize that in order to process, we must be honest.  I think that some of the most powerful pieces that I have ever written have come from such a place.  Such words are surely necessary at times.  But for the love of Charlie, leave your kids out of it.  They are fragile and sensitive.  They do not understand nuance and semantics.  They do not express how much they have been wounded, and carry emotional wounds for far longer than any parent would like to think.  And because of this, our need to express ourselves freely must take a backseat to our obligation as parents to protect the hearts and minds of our children.  To value personal candor more highly than the welfare of an impressionable child smacks of total selfishness.

The importance of honesty must always be measured against our obligations to other people, to our society, to our families, and our children.  In this situation, Buzzy’s candor might have been “refreshing” to the thousands who have read his post, and it definitely drove traffic to his blog, both moderately positive outcomes.  But that same candor will potentially leave a terrible scar on his own son, a profoundly negative outcome.  And you have to ask yourself if being “refreshing” or “real” is worth such a heavy personal cost.


3 thoughts on “Actually, I try hard NOT to have a favorite kid…

  1. I agree wholeheartedly. When something is blatantly wrong, candor is good; when candor is hurtful, it isn’t. I’m a pretty open, honest person who expresses her thoughts and beliefs openly. But I’ve learned over the years that it may not be good to do so, and have learned to hold back if the truth may hurt someone.

    As for favorite child, my sons are very different personalities, with different strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, although they were raised in the same home, they didn’t have the same upbringing. However, one was never favored over the other. I would tell son #1 that he was my favorite son Alex and son #2 that he was my favorite son Josh. Even as small children they understood that they both were favored, each for his own wonderfulness. When my mother asked each separately who was my favorite (“I know your mother loves you both, but which of you is her favorite?”) each stated that he was my favorite. Alex said that I loved them both but he was my favorite because he came first and was my “prayer baby” and Josh said that I loved them both but he was my favorite because he was my baby. Mom said I must be doing something right if they both thought they were my favorite. But both were right.

    As for not talking with children about prejudice, I sort of agree with you and also disagree. I think you have to share at a level and in a way that they can understand, but still put it out there when opporunity arises. Many years ago, when Alex was a preschooler of 3 or 4, I was chatting with some friends in my kitchen when he came in and announced “Did you know that all blacks carry knives?” We all just stared at him for a moment, then I said “That’s just not true.” “Yes it is,” he said, “Mr. B…. said so and he knows.” “He’s mistaken,” I said. “I carry a knife and I’m not black — and Barbara (who was sitting there) is black and she doesn’t carry one.” “Don’t be silly,” he replied, “Barbara isn’t black, she’s brown.” I told him that when Mr. B…. was talking about blacks he was talking about Barbara and another friend RIchard. He frowned, thought a bit and then said, “Well, that’s just stupid.” Anyway, he learned a couple of lessons that day — about prejudice and that adults aren’t always right and don’t always know what they’re talking about. While I would have preferred that the need had not arisen, I’m very grateful that the opportunity to teach about prejudice gave me the chance to do so.

  2. Thanks for adding to the discussion of the piece, I honestly believe the reaction has been VERY over the top. It was an innocuous piece I wrote about the surprise I had in becoming a father that has spun off into many different veins.

    My kids are loved, cherished, supported, and cared for beyond their wildest dreams.

    I think you’ll be interested in the follow up piece I’ve written in reaction to the attention:

    1. thanks for taking the time to comment. as a fellow father, i understand that we can relate differently and better to one child or another depending on how old they are and their interests. that’s quite natural. i also understand the need to process thoughts as a father, which is not always easy.

      what disturbs me about your understanding of parenting is that you seem to think you are doing your children a favor. you fall in love with them when they start doing stuff, rather than loving them unconditionally. you believe they are loved beyond their wildest dreams, as if that’s not their right. and you don’t really see a problem with telling millions of random strangers that you like one of them more than the other. and even when 7/8ths of those strangers are repelled by your comment and tell you not to say that, you refuse to see the wisdom in their collected and tested advice.

      someday you’re going to have to make the realization that you are not a gift to your kids. your kids are a gift to you. and it doesn’t matter if they’re frickin cute or you relate to them well, because they deserve your best no matter what. that’s why they call it “unconditional love”, bro.

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